Mistletoe Mansion by Samantha Tonge
Kimmy Jones has three loves: cupcakes, gossip magazines and dreaming of getting fit just by owning celeb workouts.
When Kimmy’s Sensible Boyfriend told her he didn’t approve of her longing for the high life or her dream of starting a cupcake company Kimmy thought she could compromise – after all, she did return those five-inch Paris Hilton heels! But asking her to trade in cake-making for a job sorting potatoes is a step too far.
So, newly single – and newly homeless – Kimmy needs a dusting of Christmas luck. And, masquerading as a professional house sitter, her new temporary home is the stunning Mistletoe Mansion. Soon she’s best buds with glamorous next door golf WAG Melissa, and orders are pouring in for her fabulous Merry Berry cupcakes! The only thorn in her side is handsome handyman Luke, a distraction she definitely doesn’t need. And talking of distractions, something very odd is going on at night…
Kimmy is finally living the life she’s always wanted. But will her glimpse into the glittering lifestyle of the rich and famous be as glamorous as she’s always imagined…?
Doubting abbey Blog: http://doubtingabbey.blogspot.co.uk/
‘Move your legs further apart. Tilt forward from the waist. Rock your hips in a rhythmic motion… Nice, gently does it. Now keep that stroke light. We don’t want a premature start. Remember what I said about balls…’
‘Keep your eye on them,’ I whispered back to the silky voice coming from the television. My jogging trousers slipped beneath my stomach as I swung my golf club (okay, broom handle). Having just chipped out of three virtual bunkers, I was practising my putting before re-doing the energetic teeing-off section.
‘You still not finished, Kimmy?’ asked Adam, as he came out of the bedroom, in T-shirt and boxers.
I smiled. Would the day ever come when I got tired of admiring his rock solid quads (thigh muscles to you and me)? They were like the physical representation of his personality – solid, secure, strong…
‘I thought you were meeting Jess for coffee.’
‘Almost done,’ I said. It had been no mean feat to follow my new exercise DVD without taking a chunk of plaster out of the ceiling or knocking a bauble off our bargain-priced Christmas tree. Indoor golf wasn’t the best hobby if you lived in a one-bedroom flat where you couldn’t swing a cat, let alone a four foot broom.
He rolled his eyes without their usual twinkle. In fact, he’d been low in the sparkle department for several days, now.
‘What?’ I stopped, secretly grateful for the break. Golf may be awesome for toning bingo wings but my back ached as if I’d played eighteen holes up Ben Nevis.
‘You already had that DVD by the bird off Strictly Come Dancing,’ said Adam. ‘Why buy this one? You should go to the gym, like me. It’d save you a bundle of money in the long run.’
I gazed back at the screen. Just as well he’d forgotten the DVD I’d bought by the winners of Britain’s Got Talent. Then there was the Hotpants Workout and the Bootcamp Bum-buster. Starchat magazine had recommended Melissa Winsford’s; said it would give me “the celebrity body of my dreams”.
I sighed. Her voice was all velvety and smooth, as if she lived on nothing but marshmallows and hot chocolate. With her firm boobs and flat tum, she was one of the most glamorous “Wags” (Wives and girlfriends for those who don’t know). Oops, better make that “birdies”. Apparently Melissa hated it when “classy” golf was associated with “thuggish” football terms.
‘Give me a few minutes and I’ll make pancakes,’ I said hoping this might raise, if nothing else, a nod of appreciation. Our usual Saturday morning ritual was a late-morning cuddle to my Hits for Lovers CD, followed by pancakes and syrup. Except today I was meeting my best mate, to indulge in festive flavoured lattes at our favourite coffee shop. And in any case, Adam hadn’t been interested when I’d rolled over close for a quick snuggle-up. In fact he’d been moody all week and I don’t mean in a sexy Marlon Brando way.
‘You okay?’ I sat down beside him, on the sofa, stomach pinching a little at the empty expression on his face. ‘You’ve had a hard week. Let me give you a massage.’
At that moment the doorbell rang. I looked at the clock. Of course! Postie! I dashed to the kitchen worktop and grabbed a Tupperware box. It contained six rich brown cupcakes topped with dark butter icing and swirls of red and green cake glitter.
‘Morning, Matt.’ I grinned at his lopsided cycling hat and passed him the box. ‘Hope everything works out,’ I whispered.
‘Thanks, Kimmy,’ he said and in return handed me a brown envelope and some junk mail. He prised open the plastic box’s lid. ‘They look ace. Cool Christmas colours, as well. How much do I owe you?’
‘Think of them as an anniversary gift.’
‘What was that all about?’ asked Adam, in a flat voice, as I closed the door. ‘How come you’re so friendly with the postman?’
‘I’m on first name terms with a lot of people, since losing my job and working random temporary hours – including Dave, the window cleaner, and Sanjay who reads the gas meter.’ I sat down again. ‘Postie and his wife have been having problems. He almost moved out last month. Tonight he’s cooking a special meal. I offered to provide a dessert that would give them a bit of, um, oomph.’
‘Sweet basil – it’s an aphrodisiac. I disguised its taste with fresh mint which doubles as the perfect breath freshener. After a couple of those cupcakes, she’ll think he’s got the moves of Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.’
Was Adam even listening? He stared at the brown envelope and didn’t even reach out for the junk mail, to flick through for money-off coupons.
‘Hungry?’ I put the envelope to one side. I had to meet Jess in one hour.
‘Aren’t you going to open it, Kimmy?’ he said, in tight tones.
‘That envelope. It could be important.’
He was right. Perhaps it was a bill and unlike Mum, I didn’t stash my mail, unopened, into the nearest drawer. I flicked off the telly before leaning back against the beige throw. I ran my acrylic nail along the seal and tugged out a document. Maybe I’d won that competition I’d entered last month for a Hollywood makeover. I sighed. No such luck. It was an application form.
‘Why didn’t you just bring this home with you?’ I left it on the sofa, stood up and walked a few steps over to the open-plan kitchen.
‘Work has procedures. Plus there’s been a freeze on recruitment. I just left your name with the personnel woman last week and crossed my fingers. I can’t believe your luck.’ A sparkle actually returned to his eyes.
‘You want me to work full time at CountryHouse Potatoes? But I thought we’d agreed – I’d temp until the right job came along. Can you really see me sorting spuds?’
‘Why not?’ he asked and raised both eyebrows.
Good question. CountryHouse Potatoes was a great employer. The pay wasn’t bad, and from what Adam said, the staff canteen food was yummy. If the position was temporary, I’d have already been at the post box.
‘I’m, um, used to working with pretty silver sugar balls and candied roses.’ I smiled. ‘Your average potato is uglier than my bunion.’
‘Ha, ha. Come on, Kimmy. It’s in catering. Put your mind to it and you could be supervisor in half the time I took. All this time you’ve spent at Best Buns bakery, with no chance of moving forward… If you forgot this mad cake-making idea of yours, you could be earning real money, getting promoted…’ His voice sounded even more animated than when he watched football.
‘But I’m going down to the job centre again on Monday.’ I opened one of the rickety cupboards and took out a pan. It was not a mad idea. Even the psychic I’d visited at the local Easter Fair said I was “born to bake”.
He picked up the form. ‘You can’t go on like this forever, babe. I want to be with someone who’s willing to look further ahead than next week’s edition of Starchat.’
‘I don’t complain about your sport magazines.’
Dismissively he waved his hand. ‘They don’t encourage me to waste money on dye kits and fake tans.’
‘I thought you liked my blonde hair?’ I bent down, opened the fridge door and took out some eggs.
‘Wasn’t your hair light brown when we first met?’
I stood up and turned around. ‘Women call that “mouse”.’
‘For all I cared it could have been black, green, streaked with pink or shaved off. It’s you I like, Kimmy – your contagious laugh and your… sense of right and wrong.’
I grinned. ‘Like when I refused to do any housework until you agreed to go halves on a vacuum cleaner that worked?’
He gave a wry smile. ‘No. I was thinking of the time you handed in that fifty pound note you found on the supermarket floor.’ He shrugged. ‘I don’t need to be with some glamorous, hotshot business woman. Marriage, kids, decent house and maybe a Chelsea football club season ticket – that’ll be enough for me.’
I put down the eggs. ‘You feel pretty sure you’ll have kids one day, right?’
‘I bet you’ve even pictured them and thought of names. That’s no different to me, except that I’ve imagined my successful cake company, my clients, the shiny van I’ll use as I drive to their homes. I even know what kind of pedigree dog I’ll buy with the profits – he’s called Chico and wears a leopard print coat and matching booties.’
I’d grown up with status dogs, Mum’s boyfriends strutting around with Rottweilers or Staffies. They’d never let me dress them up or strategically place a few ribbons.
‘And it’s not just about the money,’ I continued. ‘Baking’s my life. I even dream about recipes at night, Peanut.’
Peanut was my pet name for him, because of his one big vice: an addiction to Snickers, the nutty chocolate bars.
‘But since your redundancy, you’ve made no concrete plans to get this supposed business off the ground.’ His cheeks flushed. ‘In fact, you’ve just given away a box of cakes. You should have charged the postman.’
‘I’ve catered for kiddies’ parties,’ I said and my chest tightened. ‘And it’s paying off. I met Megan at her niece’s do. Everyone thought the cakes I made for her wedding were awesome. At last I’m moving on to more upmarket work. The bakery taught me all I know.’ I was rambling now. ‘The next step is to work somewhere I can make the right contacts.’
‘That’s a plan?’ he said. ‘So, exactly what kind of job are we talking about?’
‘Um…childminder to the kids of someone famous; receptionist in a top hairdressing salon…’ I could just see me now, delivering cakes to some top football club. The Wags would become my best friends. The men would insist Chico become their mascot… I started beating the eggs, not wanting to catch Adam’s eye. My plan sounded feeble, I knew that, but networking was my only chance. And let’s face it – no one at CountryHouse Potatoes could introduce me to a chart topping singer or Olympic champion.
‘The most famous person living in Luton is either dad to fifteen kids by fifteen mums or on trial for murder,’ muttered Adam.
‘That’s a bit harsh. I thought you liked living here.’
‘I do, but it pays to be realistic. Wise up, Kimmy – baking cakes is no way to escape the nine ‘til five. Round here, people have to work their butts off to earn an honest living. What makes you think you’re any different?’
‘I don’t, it’s just…You saw Megan’s cupcake tower – the spirals of pink buttercream icing; the ribboned gift boxes. I was up until three in the morning finishing that display.’ I lifted my chin. ‘And what about the selection of mini Christmas-themed cakes I made for that charity coffee morning, at the community centre, last week? Everyone went wild for the cute Stollen slices, cinnamon cupcakes and chocolate logs… ’ A lump rose in my throat. ‘Don’t you think I’ve got what it takes? You know I work hard. Don’t you believe I’ve got the talent?’
‘That Megan was a one-off, babe – she got married to her boss and they moved away to London. No one else around here can afford a wedding cake that per mouthful costs more than they earn per hour. As for the charity bash, you sold those cakes at a discount price for the good cause. Your profit hardly covered your costs. Times are hard; we don’t live in some crappy reality show with a quick-fix prize. However much you want it, building a successful business can take years – you ask my Uncle Ron.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with setting your sights high.’ I bit my lip.
‘So long as it’s not so high that your head’s stuck in the clouds.’ Adam stood up. ‘I’m sick of feeling as if my life’s on hold. We can’t plan a decent future just on my wages. The factory offers regular money, benefits and prospects. You could always do your cake thing when we’ve retired and got a house with a bigger kitchen.’
‘Retired? I’ve only just turned twenty-one and you’re only a year older! I mean… isn’t that rather a long time off?’ At times he reminded me of Mr Potts, my Year Eleven form teacher, who advised us to choose the most boring career we could think of because it would probably pay the most.
‘I… didn’t expect things to turn out like this either, you know,’ he said and gave a small sigh. ‘I always imagined I’d earn enough to buy a place on my own, get a new car every year and afford a two week holiday in Spain…’ Adam plonked himself down on the sofa again and ran a hand through his short sandy hair, down to the back of his head. Suddenly I longed to do the same to him.
‘You do great,’ I said, softly. ‘Not all your mates have even left their parents’ homes yet.’
He shrugged. “I thought you moving in last year meant that you were ready to settle down. People like us don’t get to drive sports cars or live in houses with their own tennis courts.’
‘Leona Lewis does all right.’ I picked up the hand-whisk and mock-mimed a ballad.
‘So, now you’re going to audition for the X Factor?’
‘We’ve got years ahead of us together,’ I said. ‘What’s the rush to cement our relationship, literally, by tying ourselves down to a mortgage?’ I glanced at the oven clock. ‘I’ve got to hurry or I’ll be late for Jess.’
Adam’s mouth went into a thin line. ‘Look…’ he said, eventually. ‘Why don’t we cool things for a bit? I’ve been thinking for a while that, well… It’s for the best, babe… in the long run… Maybe you should move out.’
A ball of coldness hit the inside of my chest. No. Adam had to be joking. He couldn’t mean it. We’d had a great time, ever since I moved in last summer. “Kimberley Jones has shacked up with her boyfriend” was my best ever Facebook status. Hoping I didn’t smell too sporty, I walked over and sat on his lap.
‘How about I find a regular bar job, to combine with the temp agency stuff? That would bring in extra money, until my baking takes off?’ I slipped my arms around his broad neck and gazed right into his eyes. ‘We both know you couldn’t manage without me. Who else would pair up your socks or keep you supplied with clean trackie bottoms?’
His hands slipped around my waist and I leant in for a snog. However, Adam prised me off, like some rockstar rejecting a crazed fan. He reached over to the small coffee table and picked up the local paper, flicking through to the Home Search section. Then he passed it to me.
‘You’re serious, aren’t you?’ I stuttered, feeling ever so slightly sick. ‘And on a practical level, how can I afford a place of my own, just like that, let alone find one a couple of weeks before Christmas? Mum won’t welcome me back.’ Especially as boyfriend number… I’d lost count… had just moved in. Like all the rest, he sported barbed wire tattoos and thought he was the next Eric Clapton.
‘You might find a flat share,’ said Adam and folded his arms. ‘Makes you realise, doesn’t it, how important it is to have a reliable income?’
‘I’ve more than pulled my weight!’ A wave of red-hot indignation replaced the coldness in my chest. ‘Days stuffing envelopes paid for our petrol and food last month. In fact, if we ever get in at the same time, it’s always me who cooks dinner and does the housework whilst you work out at the gym.’
Adam raised his arms into the air. ‘But it’s me who’s responsible for trying to save up for our future.’
‘Well maybe I needed a break from responsibility after virtually bringing up my younger brother.’ My voice trembled. ‘Ever had to sit your mum down and take her through the weekly budget? No. So, don’t talk to me about being level-headed and practical.’
‘I’d like to know what happened to that organised, sensible girl I fell in love with.’
Eyes tingling, I stumbled into the bedroom and hauled my pink case off the top of the wardrobe. Sensible? Hadn’t I recently taken back the five inch high shoes I’d only bought because I saw them on Paris Hilton?
I sat down on the bed and stared at my glittery nails. It didn’t make me a bad person, did it? Wanting a better life? Holidays where trees smelt of vanilla? Cars with engines that didn’t take ten minutes to start? I wanted arctic white teeth; I wanted rainforest-exotic handbags. I wanted to spend my nine ‘til five doing something that I loved. Wasn’t it good to have aspirations? Work hard for a top lifestyle? That was what I’d always dreamed of, growing up, wearing neighbours’ cast-offs. I didn’t even get a brand new first bra. Mum said I wouldn’t be in it that long and the money she’d save would buy a mountain of fags.
‘You should have let me get down that case,’ said Adam, suddenly appearing at the bedroom door. ‘I didn’t mean for you to leave right away.’
I swallowed. Was he having second thoughts?
‘At least ring around a few friends first.’
My heart sank. ‘Is there… someone else?’ I said and sniffed.
I believed him. Adam didn’t do excuses. Not even if he forgot my birthday or – God help him – finished off the last tube of Pringles.
‘Then give me one more chance,’ I whispered. ‘What’s it going to take to change your mind?’
Adam hesitated for a moment before kneeling down in front of me, by the bed. He took both my hands and gently rubbed my palms with his thumbs. ‘Fill in that form, babe. Then we can both look forwards.’ His eyes crinkled at the corners. ‘I still love you,’ he murmured and kissed me softly on the lips. ‘I just can’t face starting the New Year without having more concrete plans for our future.’
That’s what bowled me over, about Adam – my gentle giant combined strength with such tenderness. The thought of life without him was unthinkable. We went together like a cupcake and cappuccino. I’d never forget feeling sick with excitement when we first started dating. Hunky Adam, with his clean-shaven cheeky smile and steadfast eyes, had asked me out. I’d never find another guy who found my “voluptuous tum” (code for “pot belly”) a turn on – or who, more importantly, made me feel as if the big wide world could do me no harm. Even though we’d been together for almost three years, I still treasured the things he’d bought me which showed that he really cared – not jewellery or flowers, but the emergency holdall for my car with a warning triangle and blanket inside. No one had ever looked out for me like that. When he’d bought me a personal alarm, I’d practically swooned at his feet. But all this… planning for our retirement already…
‘We could window-shop for houses,’ he continued, stood up and grabbed his towel. ‘Suss out what sort of property would suit us. Google mortgage deals…Look into saving plans. It’s never too early to start cutting back. We could eat value range food and buy clothes from charity shops.’ Humming, he beamed and left the bedroom.
Mortgage deals? And had he ever tried value cornflakes? They were like cardboard confetti.
I headed into the lounge, picked up a biro from the coffee table and, still unable to take it all in, sat back on the sofa for a while. Eventually I leant forward and held my head in my hands. Adam was what my Auntie Sharon would have called “a catch” –kind, hard-working and loyal. But why the rush to throw down roots and, in the process, throw away our freedom?
I looked up and chewed on the end of the pen, before reaching for the application form. My eyes felt wet. Every atom of me hurt. Why did he have to give me an ultimatum? With a shaking hand, I texted Jess and asked her to meet me, instead, by the bench outside Adam’s flat. Then I picked up the form and slowly began writing:
CURRENT POSITION: Aspiring Entrepreneur
SEX: 100% safe, please, until career well underway
ASSETS: Curves. Cupcakes. Ambition.
HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 5 YEARS: Glossy-haired, Dior-dressed catering magnate
WHY DO YOU WANT THIS JOB: I, um, don’t.
MARITAL STATUS: Single, then?
ADDRESS: “No Fixed Abode”, I guess.
Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire with her lovely family, and two cats who think they are dogs. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award in 2014. Its fun standalone sequel is From Paris with Love. Mistletoe Mansion stars a new set of characters and is for fans of cupcakes and Christmas!